Smith and Wesson’s Behemoth Magnums

Smith and Wesson world-renowned firearms manufacturer Headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts of the United States has been in existence for 160 years. During this span Smith and Wesson has held the acclaimed spot of most powerful production handgun on many occasions. It all started in 1935 with the introduction of the 357 Magnum with the purpose of defeating car doors and ballistics vest being employed by gangsters at the end of the prohibition era. A couple of decades later in 1956 the 44 Magnum surfaced as the most powerful production handgun. This reign at the top by Smith and Wesson was again short lived and was eclipsed by Dick Casull with the development of the 454 Casull in 1957 to be publicly released in 1959. In 1971 Clint Eastwood playing the role of Dirty Harry a San Francisco Police Department Inspector introduced the world to the 44 Magnum with his famous line “I know what you’re thinking: “Did he fire six shots, or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well do ya, punk?”. During the making of this film the model 29 had actually been out of production for sometime and was assembled from spare parts at the Smith and Wesson factory purposely for this film. Even then with 454Casull being around it was not the most powerful, but I digress. In 2003 at Shot Show Smith and Wesson having partnered with Cor-Bon introduced the monster of all magnums to regain its crown of most powerful by releasing the Smith and Wesson 500 Magnum. Smith and Wesson wouldn’t stop there 2 years later in 2005 at the Shot Show Smith and Wesson released the 460XVR the worlds fastest production revolver derived from a partnership with Hornady. The 460XVR is arguably the most versatile big bore revolver to date capable of firing the 460 Magnum, 454 Casull, 45 Colt and the 45 S&W Schofield. This allows the shooter to increase cartridge power, one level at a time, until he or she is comfortable with full-power loads, if so desired. Only the newly released 327 Federal Magnum and the 445 Super Magnum duplicate this level of versatility in a revolver—the ability to handle four or more cartridges interchangeably.

Today I had the pleasure of having on the range both — the worlds most powerful and the world fastest production revolvers, which I often refer to as “Smith and Wesson’s Behemoth Magnums”. The “Kings” are capable of launching .50 caliber bunker busting projectiles and .45 caliber projectiles at missile like speed capable of taking the biggest wild life game on God’s green earth.

To fire such high-pressure cartridges Smith and Wesson had to develop a totally new platform capable of withstanding massive pressures. Smith and Wesson’s largest double action revolver frame at the time was the N frame. Capable of only withstanding pressures of the 44 Magnum 36000PSI, these behemoths would easily produce pressures in the 65000PSI range according to SAAMI specs. Thus Smith and Wesson produced its X-Frame, which is substantially larger, thicker, and heavier than any other S&W frame in all dimensions save one. The grip frame portion is the same specification as a K/L and post 1996 production round-butt N-frame. The grip designed by Hogue for the Model 500 and 460 is a full-wraparound type with recoil-cushioning internal Absorbathane inserts within the upper web portion to fully cover the backstrap on these massive revolvers. Other Hogue monogrips developed for Smith and Wesson leaves the backstrap exposed, utilizing the smaller grip allows for the backstrap to be fully covered while not increasing the reach to trigger. Smith and Wesson recognized the fact this would have to be an extremely large revolver that would have to fit in average sized hands. Covering the backstrap also prevents the steel from being in direct contact with the palm of your hands thus cushioning felt recoil.

What I soon realized — if these grips were capable of taming these behemoths it would surely make a pussycat out of a N-Frame 629 44 Magnum. After this range session I soon ordered a set of these grips to go on my S&W 629 and what a difference it would make. It is now very easy to have an all day range session enjoying full load 44 Magnums without palm and wrist fatigue. As seen in the pictures above the X-Frame 460 Magnum dwarfs the 629 44magnum but the Hogue grips are a perfect fit.

S&W also had to develop a stronger lockup mechanism than their traditional center pin to hollow ejector rod, nor is there any barrel-lug latch. The solid, small-diameter ejector rod is unsupported at the front, but the frame latches the yoke directly with a spring-loaded ball detent. Until now ball-detent yoke latch designs were often thought of as inferior on the grounds that any spring-loaded device will be subject to disengagement under recoil. The genius of S&W developed the rifling of the 500 to torgue more firmly against the ball detent and yoke thus working with recoil, pressing the latch more firmly into its notch, rather than opening it. This redesign actually strengthens the yoke-frame engagement rather than stressing it. The rifling of the 460XVR acts in much the same way though S&W had to use a little creativity in this department as well. The 460XVR rifling begins with a subtle, 1:100″-rate of twist; however, it rapidly progresses to 1:20″—sufficient to stabilize even the heaviest .451″-.452″-projectiles—just shy of the compensator. The breech end of the barrel—behind the forcing cone—is highly polished to enhance longevity as well.

With an all-new frame and lockup mechanism S&W also had to develop a cylinder capable of withstanding the 60,000PSI Cor-Bon developed 500 Magnum ammunition, and the 65,000PSI Hornady developed 460 Magnum ammunition. This newly developed ammunition would require the cylinder to be over 2inches in length. It would sport a 5 shot design allowing the cylinder latch cuts to be offset adding to the strength of this new revolver. Most who own and regularly shoot the S&W 500 reload for it and for this session I would be no different. Early on S&W 500 Magnum cases were developed for Large Pistol Magnum Primers. Per Starlines website On July 28, 2003, Smith & Wesson and Cor-bon changed specification of primer pocket to fit Large Rifle Primers. Rifle primers are same diameter as pistol except they are approximately .006″ taller. This was done to prevent the primer from being pierced by the firing pin when loaded with max loads and heavy bullets (bullets over 400 grains). It was determined that a hole in a primer allowed pressure to damage the firing pin and bushing, kind of like a cutting torch and the harder cup of a rifle primer will prevent this from occurring. All cases sold by Starline, Inc. after July 28, 2003, will contain a large rifle primer pocket to accept a large rifle primer. Hodgdon Powder has generated load data, which recommends using Win. Large Rifle Primers. Cor-bon has also tested and recommends CCI 250 primers (Magnum Large Rifle). Starline cases will have an “R” after the “Mag” on head stamp to signify rifle pocket. If you have previously purchased 500 cases without “R” on head stamp and wish to modify, you can use a large rifle pocket uniformer to deepen the primer pocket by .006″ to accept large rifle primers. This will not affect integrity of case.

 Thank you Starline for this information, it is important, early on I did purchase 500 brass without the R indication. Notice in this picture all the brass has the “R” indication. I worked up loads utilizing the CCI250 Primers of silver color and Winchester Large Rifle Primers of gold color represented in the picture. The difference in primers seems not to matter all loads burned clean and accuracy was about the same.

Having gained experience from the 500 Magnum, the 460XVR cases were developed with Large Rifle Primers from the onset of the project. With the 460VXR having increased pressure over the 500 Magnum S&W had to heat-treat the entire frame and cylinder to withstand the 65,000PSI pressures.
S&W discovered early in the process extraction with minimal effort with the 460XVR required for the cylinders to be highly polished. Though when examining and comparing the inside of the chambers of both platforms I did not detect any difference and on the range both exhibited smooth extraction

 

For the best performance and IMHO shoot-ability Smith and Wesson mated a 7 1/2 barrel with the X-Frame to finish out the build of both platforms. Shoot-ability you say — yes the weight of the total package comes in over 72 ounces and the weight forward feel of the longer barrels assist with recoil.

The advertised barrel length for both is 8.38″ but this includes the compensator. Interesting enough on the early S&W 500 Magnums there is a permanently fixed three-vent muzzle brake which fits over the protruding rim of the internal barrel tube. Later version of the S&W 500 Magnum would have shorter barrels and removable muzzle breaks following in the footsteps of the 460VXR which comes with two muzzle breaks. One for jacketed bullets and one for lead hardcast bullets.

 

The S&W 460XVR also sports 6 venting ports out of the top of the barrel, as well as a highly visible green front sight. Venting gases also helps tame recoil and reduces muzzle rise. The downside is muzzle blast and concussion –  a 200grain Hornady load leaving the muzzle at 2300fps out of the 460XVR and the 350grain Cor-bon load at 1600fps will create rifle like concussion. While on the outdoor covered 50yard range the range officer mentioned that every time I fired one of these behemoths he would notice the shingles on the edge of the roof raise up.

Because of such blast I strongly recommend doubling up on hearing protection with earplugs and muffs, which is a practice, I use every range session no matter which firearm I may be using. To keep piece on the range I would also recommend giving a calm friendly “fire in hole” warning to the shooters on either side of you. Luckily on this day I had no one on either side though there were some 22 benchrest shooters a couple of lanes down. After the first shot of the S&W500 magnum I noticed their shooting came to an abrupt halt and they were standing next to me wondering what hand cannon was making all that noise.

Range Session
All shooting was done without rest with a two handed standing hold with iron sights.

At the 50yard line shooting at a 16″ x 24″ B-34 target the front sight seems to cover the entire target. My loads on this day averaged 4 inches, for the 460XVR my loads were with a 200grain bullet and the 500S&W rounds were loaded with a 350grain bullet. The 350gr 500S&W bullet can often be hard to find here locally for me. Luckily I have a friend in the business of supplying reloading supplies at good prices with great customer service, so I dropped him an email and though he didn’t have them at the time he found me a good supply. If you are ever in the need of reloading supplies drop Jeff and email at jrs.reloading at yahoo.com


I started out shooting 45Colts out of the massive 460XVR X-Frame and it was the equivalent of shooting 38special wad cutters out of S&W model 27. I then proceeded to fire 454 Casull’s and though it was not harsh the X-Frame doesn’t turn the 454Casull into a daily plinker, this was most like shooting hot 125gr 357 Magnum loads in a medium frame 686.I then proceeded to fire two cylinders, 10 rounds of 460Magnum. The 460Magnum is flat shooting out to 200 yards and is highly capable of taking thin skin game like dear at this distance, for me this would take a lot of practice though you could increase your chances at a humane shot at this distance by mounting a scope and utilizing shooting sticks.

With the S&W 500 I fired 3 (5) shot groups, again the X-Frame and Hogue grips tamed the recoil but this experience was of one, which quickly reminded me of hand grenade training in the Marine Corps. It seemed every-time I pulled the trigger the concussion was like a hand grenade going off 10 feet in front you. On my first 5 shots this is when I noticed there was something different about the triggers on the 460XVR and S&W500. I then stopped to examine both and noticed the 460XVR uses the typical thin smooth trigger while the S&W500 was outfitted with the wide smooth target trigger.

S&W 460XVR Trigger

 

 

 

 

 

 

S&W 500 Trigger

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both triggers weighed in at 11pound double action and 4 pound single action trigger pulls with my RCBS trigger gauge.
S&W 500 First 5 shots

 

 

 

 

 

 

S&W 500 Second round of 5 shots

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see the gun is way more accurate than I can be with it by the cloverleaf pattern of 3 rounds in the second firing. To ring out this sort of accuracy I found myself concentrating more than I ever have in any other range review and I believe that to be because of the rifle like concussive blast going off such a short distance away. With a rifle this blast is usually 20 inches or more away depending upon the barrel length, with a handgun it is literally going off in your hand with each firing.
S&W 500 Third round of only 3 shots this time. I stopped short because I noticed a lot of people on the range standing around watching me or as my daughter would say giving me the stink eye waiting for me to be done. I intended to try and ring out every bit of accuracy as possibly knowing it would be my last 3 rounds by taking silhouette head shots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sure you all noticed that all groups were left on the target. I left the rear sight as it was adjusted and only adjusted my point of aim up or down. I am sure with a couple of clicks on the adjustable rear sight I could move these groups to the center of the target.

Having spent another great day at the range relaxing and ridding myself of stress I noticed my heart was really pumping and mentally I was drained from the additional focus it took of me to work through the blast from these behemoths. Though very enjoying and having spent my entire life around firearms hunting or while serving in the United States Marine Corps I had never experienced blast fatigue before. And I have spent many hours behind a Mk19 grenade launcher capable of sending 60 40mm grenades down range in a hurry when needed.

Smith and Wesson clearly now reigns supreme with the introduction of the X-Frame. I doubt we have seen the last of S&W innovation and creativity based on this platform. One thing I immediately noticed is that my 223 Remington rounds would fit in the cylinder length wise, let your imagination run wild.

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Smith and Wesson's Behemoth Magnums, 8.3 out of 10 based on 6 ratings

7 thoughts on “Smith and Wesson’s Behemoth Magnums”

  1. WOW … what else can you say …. except I would have probably been giving you
    “the stink eye” too!

    Good article and the pics are, without saying, outstanding!

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  2. I own a 500 and I have been shooting it for 2 years now and I love it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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  3. Pingback: 6 Shot X-Frame
  4. Pingback: BFR vs SW .460

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